Easy illustrations for your project meetings
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, at ProjectManagement.com this month we are really testing that theory with the features on visual project management. And not wanting to miss out, I thought I would share some drawing tips with you.
Drawing? If you are thinking now that you can’t draw, bear with me. By the end of this article you will be able to, I promise.
First, let’s think about why you should be using illustrations and pictures in your project meetings. It’s easy to come up with lots of reasons:
And I’m sure you can think of other reasons.
When can you use illustrations in your project meetings? There are lots of times when it is appropriate, for example:
OK? Let’s get started.
I hated drawing at school so if I can do this, then anyone can. Think of people as a five-pointed star. Then replace the top point with a head, like in the illustration below. An easy person! You can make it look as if the person is pointing, and put them together around an object to represent breakout sessions or collaborative working.
It doesn’t take much to adapt the star concept to have pointy arms and lots of legs to represent a group. I know this particular group only has 5 legs which isn’t realistic. Six would have been better (although there are 4 heads in the front row so someone is still missing out). But you still know what it relates to, don’t you? You can see that this could represent a client group, a project team, a user community… anything.
Process maps are represented in a particular way when you are using Visio or similar to put them together in their final version. But in a workshop, you can have much more flexibility about how you draw out processes on flip charts or illustrate them on slides. And there are likely to be some processes that are discussed in meetings where you don’t want a full-blown detailed process map and a quick illustration to show that there is a process will do just fine.
Arrows are great as shortcut symbols for processes. It’s easy to draw a basic arrow, I’m sure everyone can do that. A few dotted lines and it becomes the most basic process diagram. You can write in the sections if you want to show what happens where (maybe useful for illustrating the project lifecycle in a kick off meeting?). Where your process has several different end points (like accept, reject or hold changes) you can give your arrow multiple-heads, like in the picture below.
One of my favourite types of arrow is the twisty one. It can stand for lots of things but it represents transformation. So something goes in, something happens and an output falls out the other side. It could mean that software code is quality checked, or that ‘the magic happens’ in a black box process that is being provided by a third party. But it is fiendish to draw, at least that’s what I thought.
I learned how to draw the twisty arrow and the other elements at the Oredev IT conference a few years ago, in a session about visual recoding. The speaker broke it down and I have done the same for you in the picture below.
So now you have the tools to illustrate your meetings, why not give it a go?
7 Reasons to crash your schedule
Crashing your schedule is hard work and not something that is advisable in many cases. So why would you do it? Here are 7 reasons why schedule crashing might be the right thing to do.
1. To get the greatest schedule compression
The main reason for crashing your schedule is to get the project done faster. If you need to bring your project’s end date forward then crashing gives you the most schedule compression for the least impact and the smallest cost.
2. When part of the project jeopardises progress
You could also look at crashing when you are facing one part of the project putting the rest of the project at risk. If a particular workstream isn’t going well it could suddenly become the route of the critical path. That might be OK, but equally you might feel that this difficult strand of work is going to hold the rest of the project to ransom. Crashing the schedule around those tricky tasks is one way to get yourself out of difficulty.
3. When meeting a fixed deadline
Projects require change and changes (however formal and appropriate your change control processes) have a habit of adding more time into the plan. When you are dealing with fixed date projects that’s not a good thing. So what happens when your necessary and obligatory changes start adding more time to your fixed date project? You have two choices: tell the project sponsor that you can’t do it and that your end date has to change or try crashing and see if you can claw back some time.
Whether you choose to crash or not will largely depend on your relationship with your project sponsor and how ‘fixed’ your fixed date project really is. I know that many project managers are given a fixed date to deliver by but with this often has some flexibility (especially if the compulsory changes that add more time are requested by the project sponsor).
4. When you are delayed
Delays early in the project necessarily have an impact on later work. You might consider crashing your schedule as a way to make up for some of the lost time.
5. When the team is needed on other work
And now we reach the reasons that are to do with resources. Your project simply might not be the most important thing happening in the business right now. Your team might be needed on other projects – or at least a particular subject matter expert might be.
Crashing your schedule is one way to free up certain resources more quickly. You could look at crashing a workstream so that your critical resources are available for other tasks or projects. The alternative to this is that you let them go (or are asked to let them go and can’t say no) and then find someone else to do the work. That’s a valid route too but depending on how far you are through the project you might find it easier to simply crash and deliver what you can with the original resources earlier.
6. When another resource is free
Sometimes the opposite happens – more resources suddenly become available. Ooo, more people for your project. The impact this can have on your schedule can go one of two ways:
Only you will know which of these scenarios is most likely on your project, and who the extra resource is matters hugely. A junior programmer who has no experience on your project is not likely to gain you much time. But an experienced technical architect who has always kept half an eye on the project and now is available to complete some solution design work alongside your existing resources should speed things up for you dramatically.
7. When another resource needs training
Finally, you may face a situation where you have a resource who is not contributing effectively to the project because they simply don’t have the skills. This hopefully doesn’t happen to you too often – ideally as project managers we would select people for the project team who have the skills we need to get the job done. However, I’m sure you are aware of situations where either ‘the skills we need to get the job done’ were not defined or changed halfway through the project or we couldn’t get a resource with the appropriate experience allocated to the project.
If you have to let someone go on training they obviously won’t be working on the project during that time. If they aren’t working on the project, then their tasks won’t get done. If you don’t have someone else to pick up their work, this will push their overall delivery milestones out.
You may find that crashing the schedule gives you some more slack around their work – either for them to get work done before they go on training (probably not if they don’t have the skills to do their work in the first place) or to speed things up when they get back.
Would you agree with these? What other reasons have you found in the past to crash your schedule? Let us know in the comments.
10 Expert Tips for Project Budgets
5 Steps for Make or Buy Analysis (video)
8 Tips for better benefits management
You’ve got a great project with a ton of benefits coming your way. Everyone’s really happy. And then someone says: “Exactly how much are we going to get from this project?” Suddenly it’s no longer enough just to list benefits – you have to quantify them as well, and that means producing an accurate forecast. Ouch.
So what can you do to get that benefits forecast as accurate as possible? Here are some tips for building a more reliable outlook.
1. Strong leadership
This almost goes without saying. If you have your project sponsor encouraging you to be transparent and honest with the estimating process, challenging your assumptions and leading by example then you will get a better result.
2. Validate first
Don’t invent a way of measuring benefits (when they are realised) that you can’t test. Test your benefits capture mechanisms, and then change them when they don’t work the way you thought they would!
3. Account for them now
People are more inclined to produce accurate forecasts if they know they will be held to account. If you expect your project to deliver a certain financial benefit, put that in the right department’s budget today. If it’s a productivity benefit, build that into the team’s annual objectives or performance targets.
4. Be negative
Take the opposing view to challenge estimates. Think critically about the other side of the argument and what would happen if the benefits aren’t delivered as planned. This can help you avoid optimism bias and come up with a realistic range.
5. Get another opinion
Pick a trusted project management colleague or even someone in a different team to review your estimates. This independent challenge can give you another perspective and help you avoid getting sucked into a project team mentality in which you make unrealistic assumptions. An internal auditor could carry out this role for you, or someone from your PMO.
6. Don’t estimate alone
Use the Delphi technique or other group estimating tools – you’ll get a far better, more accurate result than if you came up with the benefits forecast by yourself.
7. Forecast a range
As with financial forecasts, predicting an amount in a range gives you more flexibility. Avoid single-point forecasts (“We’ll generate $689.52 extra revenue”) and opt for a spread of figures (“We’ll bring in between $550 and $700 in extra revenue”).
8. Review your estimates regularly
As your project progresses, go back to those estimate and make sure that they are still accurate. Your project will change and those changes could well have an impact – positive or negative – on the benefits forecast. Keep your forecast up to date and communicate any changes to the key stakeholders. A change too far in the wrong direction could mean your project is no longer viable. Linking back to the first point on this list, that’s the time when strong leadership comes into its own. It might mean cancelling the project or backing out some changes that have an adverse effect on the benefits profile.
Benefits are the reasons we do projects and programmes, so if the benefits aren’t there, you have to have a very good justification for continuing to work on the project. That’s why benefits realisation is important. More effective benefits realisation happens when estimates are good, people understand how they have been calculated and above all, they are realistic. It isn’t hard to do, but more often than not project teams and the organisations they work for don’t spend the time on the benefits planning stages to get good results at the end.
What does your company do? Let us know in the comments below.